News & Views

Stop Talking, Start Messaging

by Patrick Jeffrey

Have you heard of Kakao, Kik, Nimbuzz, or Tango?

They’re all mobile messaging apps, they all boast well over 100 million users, and they’re all changing how we communicate. But more importantly for us, they’re driving a digital evolution that’s creating new ways for brands to reach people on mobile. Less awkward, ineffective mobile banners and display ads, more genuine interaction with an audience. Yet, I’d be willing to bet that quite a few marketers have never heard of some of these apps before. Am I right?


Messaging clearly isn’t anything new. Most of us probably remember dialling-up to the internet and chatting with potential love interests or distant friends on good old Windows Messenger. Then mobile came along and we moved on to texting – this meant we didn’t have to sit in front of a PC in order to communicate with our mates. As long as we had signal (and credit) we could talk. So what’s now changed?

These new apps have blended together the advantages of (mobile) SMS and (PC-based) instant messaging to create a new type of service. They run on your smartphone, so you can chat whenever and wherever you want to. And just like instant messaging (IM), they operate over the internet rather than on cellular networks, which impacts cost. ‘Text messaging can be quite expensive in some countries,’ said Paul Lee, head of telecoms research at Deloitte in a recent interview, ‘but because there’s no margin of cost in sending an IM, you can be much more generous with the quantity of messages that you send.’

This has created an explosion in mobile messaging. Deloitte predicts 50 billion messages will be sent globally every day by the end of 2014, compared with 21 billion SMS. That's 18 trillion throughout the course of the year  a pretty staggering figure.


These numbers go some way to explaining why Facebook forked out $19bn for WhatsApp. The California-based service already boasts over 500 million users, and Mark Zuckerberg expects that to reach 1 billion in a few years. ‘The reality is that there are very few services that reach a billion people in the world,’ he said at Mobile World Congress this year, ‘I just think that [WhatsApp] by itself is worth more than $19bn.’

What’s particularly interesting about Facebook’s mega-acquisition is that WhatsApp is only where the story starts. Having failed to land Snapchat for $3bn earlier in the year, Zuckerberg and his team recently launched their own ephemeral messaging app, Slingshot. Add this to WhatsApp, Instagram (which now has a direct messaging feature), Facebook Messenger (which was recently uncoupled from the main mobile app), and Facebook itself and you have a five-pronged attack on the messaging space. ‘Facebook has five different services under their umbrella, which is a really powerful position to be in, because messaging really is the present and the future of mobile,’ Sean O’Brien, founder of Textpride, told me in a recent interview.

Facebook’s aggressive attempt to become dominant in this space should be a loud and clear signal to brands: mobile messaging may already be huge, but it’s going to become a whole lot bigger. ‘We’re going from 1.5 billion PCs on earth to perhaps 3 billion smartphones that are completely mobile and personal,’ wrote Andreessen Horowitz’s Benedict Evans in a recent blog post. ‘That means the internet, by whatever metrics you want to use, gets two or three or four times bigger.’ In another post, Evans goes on to explain the potential this holds for messaging: ‘These apps have the opportunity to be a third channel in parallel to Google and Facebook,’ he wrote.


So what’s the takeout here?

In the forthcoming issue of Contagious magazine, I explore exactly how brands can take advantage of the mobile messaging space. I speak with the marketing teams from some of the world’s biggest platforms and I catch-up with the early movers that are successfully building communities.

Messaging is exciting because it lets brands move away from ineffective banners and ill-fitting display ads to a much more direct, one-to-one communications approach. Almost all of these services (WhatsApp excluded) have evolved from pure messaging apps to full-on media hubs. And this evolution has enabled brands to reach huge (yet targeted) audiences in a personal (yet shareable) way, through a channel that’s in people’s pockets (mobile). ‘We do have a messaging component,’ said Heather Galt, head of marketing at Kik Interactive. ‘But now we’re working on our platform: giving brands and content providers new ways to engage with existing audiences, as well as find new ones.’

What really struck me was just how important it is for marketers to pay attention to this messaging movement. Something that IPG Media Lab’s New York-based director of partnerships, Eytan Oren, agreed with me on: ‘This is a space that brands simply have to pay attention to: the audience and opportunity are too big to ignore,’ he said. ‘With emerging platforms, there’s always an early-mover advantage, and companies should be experimenting now and planning into their future.’

Keep an eye out for the in-depth feature on mobile messaging in Contagious, Issue 40, out in September. You can subscribe to the magazine here